Family and Friends

Jasper Lake (or After The Formlessness, Who Gave Things Shape?)

My mother was the first of her generation to be born in America. Her father and mother escaped Russian pogroms when they were children. She was born under Sagittarius, in Brookline, Massachusetts. She didn’t know (or care) she was white and Jewish until her parents and friends learned of her Kenyan fiancé, and her mother…… Continue reading Jasper Lake (or After The Formlessness, Who Gave Things Shape?)

Philosophy · Religion

Heavenly Questions

When Li Shangyin saw copies of the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible and the Talmud in a local bookstore in Shenzhen’s Book City, he turned to me in astonishment: “The authors of these books must have known Qu Yuan!” (pronounced CHU you AN) “Qu Who?” I said, thinking he had sneezed. “The greatest poet…… Continue reading Heavenly Questions

Art and Aesthetics · nature

Swallow Terrace Poems

As I was biking along the Shenzhen boardwalk, I looked up. The sky was a cool plastic slate that stretched from the west, where the sun blushed behind pearly screens. Around me the sounds of hip hop mixed with the tinkle of bicycle bells, the scent of jasmine and barbecued meat. Along the shore of…… Continue reading Swallow Terrace Poems

Art and Aesthetics · nature · Politics

40 Verses Of The Muddy Well

At sunrise, on a day trip to Reno, Shangyin drove past the orange groves that cover southern California. On a whim, he stopped his car and got out. Except for an old man pruning some trees by the roadside, there was no-one in sight. The man’s face was wrinkled and dark, and he had a…… Continue reading 40 Verses Of The Muddy Well

Art and Aesthetics · Politics

Given to Official Liu

One morning I woke in a sweat. Instinctively, I picked up my smartphone. Banner ads for insurance products and shampoo competed with news feeds about imminent wars and man-made disasters. Everywhere I looked it seemed the world was going up in flames.  I wanted to write something about it, but recoiled at the thought of…… Continue reading Given to Official Liu

Art and Aesthetics

Song of the Inner Palace

The Qing dynasty scholar Wang Guowei wrote of poems falling into two categories: close by or remaining at a distance. The Chinese character he uses for distance is ge(隔), whose ancient pictogram consists of three mounds, and a three legged urn. Shangyin’s poems often evoke a distance between the reader and the word, by referring…… Continue reading Song of the Inner Palace